Orioles fly by Jays, 9-5, before departing

7 runs in first 3 innings boost Lopez to 13th win despite Wells' 2 homers

Minnesota, Boston are next 2 stops on last trip

September 17, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - So much for the easy part.

The Orioles' final road trip of the season continues tonight in Minnesota and concludes next week in Boston - two locations burning with playoff fever. Last night's opponent can't produce a mild head cold.

Given a chance to build some momentum at SkyDome before playing the role of spoilers, the Orioles were careful not to trip over any seams in the carpet, overcoming Vernon Wells' one-man crusade in a 9-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Orioles (67-77) won the opener behind Bruce Chen's first complete game in the majors, and rebounded from Wednesday's shutout loss by scoring in the first three innings last night. They are 10-6 since losing 12 in a row.

"We don't worry about who we're playing," said Larry Bigbie. "We want to finish up this season strong, and taking this series is a start. It's a series we expect to win."

An announced crowd of 21,451 seemed much smaller, judging by all the empty seats and the echoes. So did Toronto's chances of winning after two-run singles by Melvin Mora in the second and B.J. Surhoff in the third pushed the Orioles' lead to 6-1.

Bigbie tacked on a sacrifice fly, and the Orioles had their eighth road win in their past 10 tries, though Wells made it interesting with two homers off Rodrigo Lopez and four RBIs.

The Blue Jays loaded the bases twice in the seventh with none out on Rafael Palmeiro's error and three straight singles, but they only scored once. B.J. Ryan got the next three outs after replacing Jason Grimsley.

"That definitely was the game right there, B.J. coming out of the bullpen," Lopez said.

Wells homered twice off Rodrigo Lopez (13-8), and his single off Grimsley in the seventh reduced the Orioles' lead to 7-4. Mora provided a larger cushion in the eighth with a run-scoring single, and Palmeiro hit his 19th homer in the ninth.

Palmeiro reached base four times and is batting .396 with five homers and 16 RBIs in his past 14 games.

"See the ball good, you're aggressive, you swing at good pitches and you get good results," he said.

You also continue to chase legends. Palmeiro has 547 career homers, one behind Mike Schmidt for 10th all time.

"It's an incredible feeling to be up there with guys like that, guys that I grew up watching," he said.

Lopez allowed nine hits and was charged with three earned runs. He had no walks and earned his first career win vs. Toronto in nine appearances.

"I battled all the way through," he said. "I have to give all the credit to the lineup. They scored a lot of runs for me."

Lopez has won his past three starts. His only appearance against the Blue Jays this season came in relief five months ago, before he cracked the rotation for the first time.

He's making a strong case for staying in it next season.

His 13 victories lead the club, and a 3.88 ERA ranks among the American League leaders now that he finally has enough innings to qualify.

"He gave it everything tonight," manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Ryan made the latest win possible by leaving the bases loaded in the seventh. Carlos Delgado popped up Ryan's first pitch, and the next two batters went down quietly.

"You just try to minimize the damage," Ryan said.

Unable to get a clutch hit in the last three innings of Wednesday's loss, the Orioles settled for a fielder's choice grounder by Palmeiro in the first last night to take a 1-0 lead on Miguel Batista.

It lasted for three batters. After striking out the first two, Lopez served up Wells' 18th homer.

His 19th came in the third inning and looked like it might leave the open dome. The ball traveled an estimated 445 feet, snuck around the foul pole and bounced off a seat in the second row of the fifth deck.

"I'm not too sure that was even a strike," Mazzilli said.

No doubt impressed by the distance, Lopez nonetheless retired 12 of the next 14 batters.

Batista (10-12) didn't surrender a homer, but he was gone after failing to retire anyone in the third. He walked Palmeiro, gave up a single to Javy Lopez and threw a wild pitch before Surhoff lined a single.

Though he hit .215 over 21 games before last night, Surhoff has kept his season's average above .300. He signed minor league deals the past two winters and might have to do the same in 2005. "He could help somebody," Mazzilli said. "He's been good for us."

Every Orioles starter had a hit. Jay Gibbons was the last to join in with an eighth-inning single.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 8:10

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Sidney Ponson (10-14, 5.31) vs. Twins' Terry Mulholland (5-8, 5.04)

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